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Exercise and RA: Tips to Get Fit and Stick With It

If improving your fitness is on your list, you’re not alone: Getting more exercise is one of the top three resolutions during this pandemic. 

Here are some tips to keep in mind if you haven’t exercised recently:

Be safe. Before you start any new activity, talk to your rheumatologist or primary-care doctor first to make sure that you’re healthy enough to start a new routine. Ask your doctor what exercises are safe for your heart, bones and joints.

Be realistic. Set reasonable goals. Make small changes to your daily or weekly activity levels. If you try to do too much too quickly, you could hurt your muscles or joints. Aim for about 2½ hours of light to moderately intense activity each week. Break this up into small sessions if it’s easier or more convenient for your schedule.

Be enthusiastic. Find exercises you enjoy doing so you’re more likely to stick with it. Do you love music? Try following an online Zumba video, a dance-based exercise set to Latin music. Do you like being outdoors? Walk through your local park. Do you find exercise too difficult? Do you like exercise that focuses on both mind and body? Try an introductory arthritis yoga class video.

Here are some convincing reasons to get moving:

Exercise keeps your muscles strong.

People with RA are often less physically active than people without RA, and may have less lean muscle mass. This can be associated with more inflammation. Over time, you can experience “muscle wasting,” or cachexia. If you lose muscle mass, it’s harder to move around, function and do the things you enjoy.

Exercises like progressive resistance training may help you build up your muscle strength. These are exercises where your muscles exert a little force. You can work out with small weights, stretchy resistance bands or on machines at the gym. As your muscles get stronger, you can gradually increase the weight or tension. Ask your rheumatologist or physical therapist for specific tips on resistance training that’s safe for your joints.

Exercise is good for your heart.

Having RA raises your risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), but that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about it—exercise can help you improve your heart health.

Aerobic exercises, also called cardiovascular exercises, rev up your heart. These include walking, cycling, swimming, dancing, tennis, or even climbing the stairs (instead of taking the elevator).

Exercise is good for your bones and joints.

RA can take a toll on your bone density. Uncontrolled inflammation and use of steroid medications can weaken bones over time. RA raises your risk of osteoporosis or thinning and brittle bones, and that can lead to slips, falls and fractures.

What can you do about it? Exercise, especially weight-bearing activities, is a great way to strengthen your bones. Try walking, climbing stairs, light weight training or dancing. Balance rest with activity so you don’t get hurt or overdo it.

Stretching can also help loosen stiff joints. Your rheumatologist or physical therapist can suggest simple stretches that are safe for you to do each day. Your goal is to move your joints through their full range of motion and gradually increase that range if you can. Stretches help keep connective tissues (ligaments and tendons) flexible, and make movements smoother and easier.

Keep track of your RA. Check your Vectra® score anytime and log your physical activity sessions on your myVectra app on your smartphone or tablet. Go to the Apple Store or Google Play to download the new, updated myVectra app, or visit VectraScore.com.

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